More than two decades ago, the modern electric vehicle was not a futurist concept; it was a reality. In the 1990s, General Motors developed and produced the first modern electric vehicle: the EV1. The vehicle came on the automotive scene in response to the then-new mandate by Californian regulators to increase the production and sale of zero-emissions vehicles.
EV1 was designed and developed by industry veterans alongside aerospace engineers, battery experts and nuclear physicists. The two seater vehicle offered a range of 70 miles in the city and 90 miles on the highway; the range increased to 160 miles when a new battery pack was developed in 1999. With a top speed of 80 miles per hour, EV1’s battery consisted of 26 12-volt lead-acid batteries offering a combined power of 312 volts.
Deliveries of the first EV1 models began in December of 1996 and were only available as leased vehicles. While reception from stakeholders, including auto enthusiasts, regulator and environmentalists, was strong, GM only produced 1,117 EV1s from 1996 to 1999, when the company decided to end production.
In 2002, GM informed lessees that the company would be removing EV1s from the road and by 2003, they had begun reclaiming the vehicles. The vehicles met their end via a vehicle crusher at GM’s Yuma, Ariz., proving ground. Today, only one EV1 is confirmed to exist and was previously on display for many years at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. However, there continues to be speculation that other EV1s escaped destruction, including one leased by Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola, who is rumored to have hid his EV1 away rather than return it to GM.
The EV1 is an exciting part of the EV story and underscores the ingenuity of automakers. With nearly 100 new EV models slated to go on sale from model years 2022-2025, we can’t ignore the milestones along the way that made an EV future possible.